This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of the Ontario Medical Review magazine.
OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill addressed Delegates at the OMA’s Fall meeting of Council. For members’ interest, following is a truncated version of her presentation.
It is my extreme honour to address you today.
Six months ago, I made some remarkably timely, though extra challenging (thanks new-normal!), promises around negotiations, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, member well- being, and membership unity via engagement.
2020 has epitomized the need for membership unity at an unprecedented level. Interestingly, 2020 has also proven the presence thereof: when push came to shove, in the most challenging and unprecedented of times, Ontario physicians came together. We had each other’s backs. You had each other’s backs. And I have never been more proud to be a doctor.
Together, we faced a pandemic. We linked arms, and stood between our communities, our patients, and the new threat bearing down upon us. We cried out to the government, to the public, about the need for precautions, PPE, income stabilization, with a single, unified and powerful message. We knit together our individual clinical, academic and scientific expertises to provide the best possible care for patients with a new disease and protection for all, and disseminated that knowledge widely and freely to those caring for the ill in hospitals and communities, in big cities and rural outposts.
2020 has proven that unity does not demand perfect agreement on all issues, only alignment on the most urgent, most pressing issues before us. In return, unity provides an uncontested power.
2020 has presented many pressing issues. As usual, we saw the poorest and worst off suffer the most. At some point, I think we all discounted 2020 as a write-off, hunkered down and set our sights on 2021. Many started pandemic gardens, learnt to make sourdough bread when yeast ran out, homeschooled our children and wondered what century it was.
It’s important to pause and take note of the good that came from, or with, the tragedies and the struggles.
Sad that it was needed, Dr. Adam Kassam and I penned an anti-racism statement; with great pride, we stood for all of Ontario’s physicians and said that the short-sightedness of the past cannot be allowed to persist into the future.
Discrimination is still omnipresent. You, your Association, your Board, your CEO, your President and your President-Elect have repeatedly demonstrated commitment to the work needed:
I’m excited to see how we continue to diversify representation in medicine and leadership positions. Unity is about everyone, is for everyone; this is what it looks like.
The world keeps changing; despite doctors leading on many social issues, we are still humans, creatures of our upbringing and our society, with intrinsic biases and blind spots. There’s no way to fast track change, especially social change. There’s no way to make it easy.
So yes, conversations around racial and gender inequities in medicine are hard, but doctors do hard things. Every day. Even now, knowing that your life’s work is bringing you directly into harms way, every day, doctors show up. So, I know, we can do this work too.
How proud can we be to belong to an organization demonstrating leadership on gender issues, systemic racism and other systemic inequities? Recognizing there is a problem, acknowledging it, studying it? Committed to doing better and tackling social injustices for its members? That, my friends, my colleagues, is what unity looks like. Hard certainly, but stress fractures heal, and we grow stronger, bound together.
2020 has been the hardest year many can recall, which is an of itself a testament to our privilege as Canadians. But even prior to COVID, one-third of physicians were already struggling with burnout. COVID shattered all the weaknesses of our health care system, decimated any previous precarious balance, and forced us to juggle new fears and stressors. COVID tested the world, and it tested us.
In these ridiculous times, a much-needed OMA Physician Health Program turned 25, the Burnout Task Force sought systemic solutions, and the Behavioural Insights program began, reaching out to members individually, using the evidence and resources we have, to support our own.
Alone in our own boats, we were a regatta in the same storm. We buffeted each other, because our fears and our goals were more alike than our situations were different. We worked together, formed alliances and networks and support groups, getting through the waves with as much integrity and compassion as we could manage. Unity.
But 2020 isn’t quite over and 2021 may not be so different, despite the magical hope New Year’s Eve seems to inspire. So how do we continue?
By now, you know the answer. We continue, together. The new governance transformation bylaws may not be perfect, but we can all commit to continuing to revisit this work until it is everything we want it to be. This first step is the culmination of 18 months and thousands of hours of work, initiated and motivated by the desire to create a better organization. An organization that is modern, nimble, responsive. An organization where members can debate health policy in separate fora from money, so that the conversations can stop tearing us apart. An organization that is willing and able to hear the voices of all: individuals, small Sections, big Sections, CANDI left, CANDI right, visual minorities, everyone. An organization where the cacophony of those voices come together. An organization capable of harmonizing our songs and bringing us together. An organization where we all feel represented. An organization where we all feel we belong. An organization worthy of the members it represents.
Good care is the sum of all of us working together to ensure best outcomes. There is no difference when it comes to our Association.
Unity is important for our well-being, but also because in addition to a viral pandemic, we have a pandemic deficit of care, a mental health epidemic, and an internal burnout pandemic. It’s important because successful Ontario Health Teams require physician leadership, engagement by all specialties, or we shall be forced to work within another system that contributes to burnout, and does nothing to improve patient care. It’s important because right after Council, negotiations sits down with the government to start the process, and we need to show them that they can no longer tear us apart with their attempts at division. We know who our allies are. Each other.
I sincerely hope that my next address happens in person, that I get to say goodbye to you all knowing we are heading into better days with successful deployment of a COVID vaccine, a successful governance transformation at the OMA and a successful negotiation, setting us up for four years of peace, stability and progress. I am grateful for the faith you have placed in me to speak for you, for the confidence you have bestowed upon me to lead you and for the opportunities with which you have graced me to make a difference. I promise to continue to work to be deserving of it all, and to leave behind something for which you too can be grateful, something of which you too can be proud.
Without further ado, let us begin our work. Fall Council 2020.
Dr. Samantha Hill